The inaugural Sunflower Art Festival slated for Saturday, August 8 from 10 a.m. to dusk on the grounds of the Tuthilltown Spirits distillery in Gardiner will be a free admission, multifaceted event. Kicking off with a session of morning yoga, the Festival will include live music from more than 15 acts on two stages (including headliner Lindsey Webster), dance jams (square dancing and swing), spirits and food samplings, a wine and beer garden, food trucks, a pop-up shopping village, a kids’ art and activities tent with free juice boxes and apples and an art installation of 100 steel sunflowers created especially for the event.
At the heart of the Sunflower Art Festival will be a community art project in which artists of all ages and skill levels will turn blank canvases into a visual field of sunflowers. The project was inspired, says festival organizer Liz Glover Wilson, by the “Art around the Park” component of the annual HOWL festival in New York City’s East Village. Glover Wilson had participated in the past in that project – which involves artists painting on an eight-foot-tall canvas encircling Tompkins Square Park – and the idea seemed a natural fit, she says, to bring to her new sunflower-themed festival in Gardiner.
The Sunflower Art Festival was created as a loving tribute from one sister to another. When Glover Wilson lost her only sister three years ago, “It was one of those moments in life where I felt like I could not go on,” she says. “We had been very close and had all these plans. Esther would have turned 40 this year and I was going to be 40 just 18 months before her, so we had been teasing each other about the outrageous parties we were going to throw for each other.”
When she realized earlier this year that she still wanted to give her sister that 40th birthday party, she set out to do so. Remembering how much Esther loved sunflowers and enjoyed that long stretch of the cheerful blooms at Wallkill View Farm that line Route 299 in New Paltz at this time of year, Glover Wilson says that she knew immediately that sunflowers would be the theme of Esther’s party.
Taking on the organization of a festival wasn’t anything new to the Gardiner resident, in that she’s a professional event producer. But while she has put together affairs for nearly two decades for celebrities who include Tyra Banks, Goldie Hawn and Lady Gaga, Glover Wilson says that this is the most important project that she has ever worked on. “It’s the most personal to me, and it’s also important to me that it’s community-oriented. Esther was very inclusive; she was the type of person who loved people for who they were. She didn’t care about status or what title you had. Community was very important to her, and I want this whole festival to feel that way.”
Esther Sanzo was a police officer with the New York Police Department despite being barely five feet tall. “She decided at a very early age that she wanted to be a police officer, because she wanted to help people. It was in her heart to be the protector – of children especially. She had a great sensitivity to the domestic issues that she would have to deal with a lot.”
When the two sisters were little, Glover Wilson was the artist of the pair, always drawing and painting. “And I would get frustrated and throw things out. She would confiscate them and save them. ‘Why are you throwing out your art? You’re so good,’ she would say to me. When she died and we were going through her apartment, I was really surprised to see she’d kept all my artwork all these years. So I knew the festival had to celebrate the love she had of the arts. She was a poet, she loved music and she loved anytime that people expressed themselves through art.”
Attendees at the Festival will be able to watch the artists at work in the community art project and enjoy the end effect of a field of painted sunflowers. The canvases will belong to their makers when completed, but any that are donated back to the Festival will be placed in children’s hospitals. Proceeds from a silent auction and raffle will benefit the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Admission to the Festival is free, but visitors who make a donation for St. Jude’s of $10 or more will receive a complimentary commemorative gift.
Artists wishing to participate in the community project are invited to visit the Festival website for details on how to reserve a blank canvas. Participants may also bring their own canvas or support and should bring their own painting materials. “Whether you have never picked up a paintbrush before or are an exquisite artist,” says Glover Wilson, “we want you.” There will also be an instructor available on a first-come, first-served basis for those who would like to participate but need a little assistance.
A special steel sunflower art installation conceptualized by Gardiner Open Studio Tour (GOST) artist Annie O’Neill, created at KC Fabrications in Gardiner (with the costs picked up by the firm), will be on view on Saturday. O’Neill was touched by Glover Wilson’s story and created the installation in honor of Esther. A preview of A Hundred Sunflowers can be seen in a video on the Festival website under the “Media” tab.